September 1, 2016:
The album I listened to when I left my childhood home was titled The Home Inside My Head.
Before I met my boyfriend, I hadn’t thought about pop punk twice since middle school. I wasn’t even one of those tween Blink-182 disciples. No, I was all about Motion City Soundtrack and Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco.
Of course, when you fall for someone, you explore their interests. There were some pop punk and post-emo bands that he showed me that I immediately took to (The Wonder Years, The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die, Sorority Noise, Modern Baseball).
He also always mentioned Real Friends because they were actually from the Chicago suburbs. I didn’t really listen to them until their new LP came out.
I listened to a song, “Empty Picture Frames”. Then another. Then another.
I liked it.
In August, my family moved out of my hometown home. We had lived there for over twenty years. We moved in from the city on Halloween when I was just a baby. It was supposed to be my parents’ “starter home.” They stayed a lot longer than that. But now, they were moving to Queens (my dad has already been living there for a few months for his new job). It was a happy coincidence – I finally get to see my parents more than three times a year. I just didn’t expect to get so emotional about my family leaving the suburbs.
So, I had a plane ticket to go home one last time before the move date. When I was waiting for my flight home, I had a little bit of access to wifi. I remembered that I liked that song. I’d give the album a try.
I didn’t listen to it on the flight going there – I actually watched The Sting for the first time.
The last time. I couldn’t believe that it was going to be the last time in that house. It hadn’t really hit me yet.
So I went home. I saw my sister for the first time in seven months. I saw my mom for the first time in four months. I saw my dog.
I was happy to see them, but I could see the weight of the situation in everyone’s face. This wasn’t just moving. This was uprooting our lives.
We were moving far. I had already been there for a few years. I was happy to be there, but I never expected my family to move there. I had already learned to accept the pain of distance.
There is a huge sense of disassociation that I still feel, and I have been here on the East Coast for awhile. And I love here. But while I’m at home, it isn’t the deepest sense of familiarity, the kind of familiarity that you knew from when you were a kid. That’s gone now. I still feel like I’m starting a life in the middle of an ocean.
It doesn’t feel like the blueberries that get smashed on the sidewalk when you’re walking in the summer. It doesn’t feel like taking the dog out in the snow as she spends fifteen minutes walking around in the white fluff. It doesn’t feel like the worn couch in the family room, my favorite couch to fall asleep on as a show is playing in the background. It doesn’t feel like waking up and looking at drawings on my ceiling. Most of them mine, but some of them from friends, from my brother and sister, my cousins. It doesn’t feel like putting up little strips of quotes from my favorite movies and television shows on my walls when I felt alone. It doesn’t feel like making chalk houses on the driveway, swinging on the swing set in the backyard.
It doesn’t feel like Halloween, when the air is perfectly chilly, just enough that when I come back from trick-or-treating, I get some warm apple cider. Charlie Brown is on in the background and I dump all of my precious candy onto the scraggly carpet. That good kind of scraggly, where you can run your fingers through it.
It doesn’t, most certainly, feel like Christmas. It doesn’t feel like going to the community pool up the road, making comfortable small talk with the Christmas tree salesmen as they bring the chosen tree to the car.
It doesn’t feel like being in the background as my dad and brother actually do all the heavy work setting up the tree back at the house. I shift back and forth behind them, pacing. Lucy fetches the water, or does something productive at least. I stand back and watch, looking up at the top of the branches. This is probably for the best, considering my trademark clumsiness.
It’s not like I’m nostalgic for being a kid again. I don’t wish it was “still the ’90s.” It’s not the memories that I miss. It’s the house. The house was the keeper of these memories. I had been there my whole life. Just looking at a dent in the wall would jog my memory about something. Something my family. The house defined us, made us who we are.
My walls and my ceiling in my room are now painted grey. For most if my life, they were yellow and purple walls with pink and white striped wallpaper. My loft bed was a sanctuary. It’s where I read, where I wrote in my diary every day. It’s where I watched hours (no… days) of Monty Python, Kids in the Hall. It’s where I watched The Graduate for the first time, where I watched Midnight Cowboy.
The walls surrounding my bed were filled with quotes. The Simpsons started it all, when I wanted to compile all of Sideshow Bob’s quotes. I’d print them out and tape them on. It became other shows, other movies, inside jokes. I was surrounded by words that made me laugh so that whenever I was sad, I knew where to look.
As a kid, I knew that I could always come home to be happy, which I know is incredibly lucky to say. I knew I could come home if I wasn’t invited to a party in my class but all the other girls at school were. I knew I could come home if I had been crying from schoolwork, or a test, or just a rough day. I knew I could come home because I didn’t feel like I belonged with a lot of people from that town. I knew I belonged at home.
For now, I still have my Illinois driver’s license.
I ended up listening to the album on my flight home. It filled in the gaps that felt like what I was missing about that house. The first song, “Stay in One Place,” hit me in my gut. It felt so relatable, so honest, that search for finally finding the place that makes you finally stop wandering. “Mess” felt like an ode to getting better but still realizing there was much to work on. “Colder Quicker” was the perfect closer, a song that felt transcendent. That first time that I listened to the album was just as the plane lifted into the sky. We were flying in the night sky, over the twinkling skyline of Chicago. It was a fitting goodbye, as this incredible, poignant album filled my heart and allowed me to let go, for the time being.
October 10, 2017:
I went to Riot Fest last month and it was the first time that I had been back to Chicago in over a year.
Through the move, the homesickness, the growth, the change, I made it back. I made it back to my house in the suburbs, only looking at it from the outside. I made it back to my favorite places in the city. I made it back to friends that I hadn’t seen in a year. I made it back to my brother and his new apartment in the city.
All of these nostalgic experiences I got to experience with my boyfriend. He was finally able to place a huge piece in the puzzle of my life.
For most of that trip, I had forgotten about the significance of The Home Inside My Head, to be honest. It was an album that became a regular in my music rotation. I got so used to the music being relevant “in the now” that the move from last year felt far away. What also helped was that my new roots in New Jersey are feeling more and more grounded. My boyfriend and I moved into a wonderful, vibrant area outside of the city. I get to see my parents at least every other week, if not more. This is a welcome change from the sparse meet-ups that we could manage when they lived in the Midwest.
I see my future here, through and through.
We went to Riot Fest with my brother for one of the days. The next day, it was just my boyfriend and I. One of the bands we saw was Real Friends. Within the year since the move, I’d already seen them and loved their show. But I was excited to see them here, in Chicago. They’re from a town not too far from my hometown. And now they’ve travelled far. A shared experience.
Once they started playing, I remembered the significance.
The past seemed to be brimming in my mind. The memories of that flight last year rushed back to me. But I wasn’t sad or scared. I felt whole. I felt complete. I felt like I had completed a quest, a mission, by bringing my New Jersey boyfriend home and reconnecting with my Illinois life. I felt like a holistic version of me was represented in a single experience. Here was my home. Here is where my home is now. Here is them together.
I felt at peace, listening to the songs on stage that made me cry on that plane. I felt happiness knowing that I ended up growing and progressing. I felt happiness that I didn’t lose touch with where I came from.
I still feel homesick, from time to time. There truly is nothing that compares to the familiarity of childhood nostalgia. But it’s something that I don’t need all the time. When I moved away, I had already known that about myself.
Real Friends launched into their last song. I looked across the field to the Chicago skyline. It felt as if I was just at a music fest like old times. When it was done, we would hop on the Metra back home. We’d walk the short walk through the tiny downtown. We’d walk up the hill to the house and open the side door, head downstairs and watch tv on the most comfortable sofa in the world.
And that was enough. That feeling was enough.
Because now, I have new, exciting, fun, heartwarming places to go. But I can always be happy that this was my life in the Midwest.